Most people associate ultrasound technology with those fuzzy, black-and-white images of a newly formed baby curled up in its mother's womb. And while prenatal sonography is an important specialty for ultrasound technologists, the field has greatly expanded in recent years to where those interested in sonographic technology and how to become an ultrasound technician have a wide array of professional fields they can enter.
- Use sound-wave-emitting medical machinery to acquire images of various parts of the body. Sonograms, or ultrasound images, are used to examine internal organs; confirm the presences of cysts or tumors; map images of muscles, tendons and ligaments; and examine a patient's nervous system, brain and spinal cord. Ultrasound images are also used to help surgeons during an operation, or to detect and treat heart disease and vascular disease.
- Specialize in distinct areas. Ultrasound technologists often become neurosonographers who make images of the nervous system, for instance, or musculoskeletal sonographers who create sound-wave images of joints and muscles.
- Get a good background in math and science.
This is the best initial step in how to become an ultrasound technician. While still in high school, take as many courses as you can in anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and mathematics.
- Choose a field to specialize in.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, specialized sonography programs include abdominal sonography or breast sonography, and cardiovascular or vascular programs are broken into invasive or non-invasive procedures.
- Earn an associate degree.
According to the BLS, a good starting point for this career is to earn a degree in either sonography, or cardiovascular and vascular technology. Although one-year certificates in these fields are also available, they are most usually designed for people who are already employed in the medical field and are looking to expand their skill set and opportunities.
- Work in a clinic.
As part of your associate's degree, you will probably be able to earn credit working under the guidance of a experienced technologist. This clinical experience will take place in a hospital, imaging lab or doctor's office, and at some schools the internship lasts a full year.
- Earn a bachelor's degree.
A four-year degree allows you to expand the breadth of your expertise. At schools like the Rochester Institute of Technology, third- and fourth-year students will take upper division courses in Human Cross Sectional Anatomy, Medical Pathophysiology, Gynecological Sonography, and Abdominal and Small Parts Sonography.
- Get certified.
Most diagnostic imaging workers will become certified if they can graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam administered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography. The exams are based on the specialties the student focused on, such as abdominal sonography, but some students get certified in a number of areas.
- Get licensed.
Some states have a licensing procedure that is required in addition to certification.
- Get additional training from your employer.
Some employers have on-the-job training for those who work in certain specialties, such as electrocardiogram technicians.
- Complete continuing education requirements.
Ultrasound technologists are required to take a number of annual classes to stay current and maintain their license and certification.
With health care being one of the fastest-growing job fields in the U.S. right now, there will be a lot of competition in the coming years. To find out more about what it takes to go above and beyond as an ultrasound tech, we spoke with Terry Hatcher, Program Chair, Director and Instructor for the Diagnostic Ultrasound Program at Bellevue College.
Q. What does the job market look like for people who are considering becoming an ultrasound technologist?
The job market for sonographers, vascular technologist and/or echocardiographers is at an increasing need. By the year 2022 there will be a 39 percent increased need for ultrasound professionals in the United States.
Q. What kind of courses can you expect to take when you work on a degree at a place like Bellevue?
We have both an associate and a bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography. Our students take courses in human anatomy, medical terminology, pathophysiology, obstetrics and gynecology sonography, and classes working with a wide variety of medical equipment.
Q. Why are ultrasound technicians going to be in such high demand in the future?
The demand is there. Hospitals will continue to be the primary employer for ultrasound technologists, but increasing physicians' offices and diagnostic laboratories will also offer more outpatient care.
Q. What characteristics do all good ultrasound technicians have?
Personal characteristics include great critical thinking skills. You must be able to handle the stress of a busy working environment as well as the demands of a sick patient. You also must have the drive to constantly improve your skills. You must be able to apply constructive criticism.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)